On Purpose: Portrait of the Alumni Society

To commemorate our 150th anniversary in 2018, the College of Liberal Arts commissioned 60 photographs taken by Xavier Tavera. Departments and programs partnered with Tavera to envision their images and to write the narratives that accompany each photograph. View On Purpose: Portrait of the Liberal Arts.

Two Alumnae stand in the East Asian library holding personal artifacts.

Looking back on CLA’s student body just 50 years ago, only around 20 percent of Americans were completing bachelor’s degrees: roughly one-third women to two-thirds men. Now, in 2018, about 33 percent of Americans are earning four-year college degrees, with women slightly edging men. In CLA, around 58 percent of today’s students are female.

In 1968, when CLA turned 100, U of M Alumni Service Award recipients and past CLA Alumni Society Board presidents Juanita “Nita” Luis and Cheryl Powers were finishing high school and embarking on their bachelor’s degrees—and more. These two exceptional 1972 CLA graduates were and remain harbingers of the transformative power of a CLA education and what sustained service and connection to their alma mater yield.

Each had her own lust for learning and adventure that led her to CLA, equipped her with her undergraduate education, and enabled her to pursue further training at the U. Luis earned a JD, while Powers went on to complete an MA in library science and an MBA.

Hailing from Ottertail County, Minnesota, Luis was a first-generation college student who majored in history. She most enjoyed studying ancient civilizations, Russia, Modern Europe, and urban America. Powers came to the U from Roseau County, Minnesota, and majored in German. She credits her mother, a 1944 U graduate, with inspiring her passion to study language, humanities, literature, history, the arts, and philosophy—what Powers lauds as magnets, drawing her to different perspectives, cultures, and broader horizons.

As always, the backdrop of their tenure at the U included a campus alive with social issues. Their era brought Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, the civil rights movement, and anti-Vietnam War protests, all of which shaped their futures and future generations.

As have many CLA grads, both Luis and Powers praise their CLA education for “giving them the world.” Both have travelled extensively, between them visiting every continent, and both have enjoyed tremendous career success. Studying cultures in CLA and beyond helped Luis adapt to different corporate environments during her legal mergers and acquisitions work, and helped her integrate different views in her extensive nonprofit volunteerism. Powers’s liberal arts training was foundational to each additional area of education, helping her in her market research business, encouraging her to think broadly about gathering other people’s opinions and perspectives, and assisting clients to understand and incorporate them into their businesses. 

The combination of their drives, talents, and liberal arts inspirations have served them well. Luis and Powers have given back to CLA and the University—lending their volunteer time to lead fellow grads in the CLA Alumni Society, assisting students in career readiness, and providing generous philanthropic support.

We are all better off for such exceptional graduates. We have over 159,000 alumni and counting; with what gifts will they dazzle us in the next 150 years? The world will surely see.

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